World Premiere!

Havana, Cuba, December 6, 2014

The world premiere of the Hemingway Suite was attended by over 700 people, including about 30 Key Westers and members of the Cuban Ministry of Culture.It was performed at the newly-renovated opera house Teatro Marti in downtown Havana, Cuba. Zenaida Romeu conducted her 50-member orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de la Habana Vieja, with Lianne Vega at the piano.   

The Key West-Cuba cultural exchange was a big success.  The Key West delegation was made up of leaders from the Key West Art and Historical Society, the Studios of Key West, the Tropic Cinema and the Hemingway House, and they met with their counterparts in Cuba during the week of the concert.


By Richard Pine

There are many orchestral suites excerpted from operas and ballets. Far fewer are inspired by literary themes and are often designed as incidental music to stage performances. Very few indeed are composed specifically as concert works: one thinks, perhaps, of Tchaikovsky's compositions based on Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet but, although these are programmatic, they are described as “Overture-Fantasy” rather than “suite”.

The most celebrated episodic work inspired by a non-musical theme is probably Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, written for piano but orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, which sets out to portray, in ten movements, specific pictures by Mussorgsky's friend, Viktor Hartmann. Here Bill Lorraine's work comes to mind, since the composer clearly experiences the same empathy with his subject as Mussorgsky did with Hartmann.

Another such programme is Gustav Holst's suite The Planets, evoking seven planets and, significantly in the light of Bill Lorraine's homage to Hemingway, their astrological character. To probe behind the title or the name is Lorraine's special gift in divining Hemingway's own character – his loves, his appetites, his disappointments – as depicted through his writings.

Bill Lorraine, a resident for the past thirty years of the island of Key West, Florida, has composed a fifteen-movement suite celebrating the work and mind of Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Key West 1931-39. His home is now a US National Historic Landmark and hosts a museum which is a matter of pride to local residents.

Lorraine is a composer, pianist, writer (of short stories) and sculptor. He describes the “Hemingway Suite” as “a musical reflection on Hemingway's novels, short stories and personal life”. Each movement, varying in duration between seven minutes and less than a minute, depicts a single work of Hemingway, some of which – A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises – will be familiar to many readers, while others, inspired by his shorter fiction, are less well-known.

Each movement is accompanied in the score by a statement by Hemingway, or an extract from one of his writings; and also by a comment on the part of the composer.

The opening, “Big Two-Hearted River”, celebrates the wildness of the natural, untamed world, while the very brief “The Old Man and the Sea” (no.7), evokes “a new day of adventure on the ocean, the calm roll of the waves, the old man at peace with the sea”.

“Across the River and Into the Trees” (no.2) is programmatic in that it depicts the novel's central character, an American soldier in love. Hemingway wrote: “Love enlarges the scope of the mind, enhances the mental faculties, clarifies emotion and gives poise to enthusiasm”. He also wrote: To understand another is one of life's richest blessings, and to be understood by another is perhaps love's sweetest and most satisfying gift”. In “A Farewell to Arms” (no.10) Lorraine evokes “the great rumbling passionate relationship” of the novel's central characters, with “love in a time of war, chaos all around them”.

If love is one of Hemingway's preoccupations, strife of every kind, but especially that of war, is another. Thus, by contrast, “Death in the Afternoon” (no.4) takes on a heroic character, ready for action and conflict.

The entire suite is motivated and suffused by the twin themes of action and contemplation. The composer's understanding of Hemingway's humanity is explicit in the miniature tone-poems that constitute the score. Lorraine says: “Hemingway's life is all about creative hunger, a craving to bring satisfaction on himself”. In “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (no.9) Lorraine describes “the existential hopelessness of the hero”, making it clear that Hemingway was capable of swinging from joy to despair, from celebration to tragedy, within each story and within the extremes of his own life.

Lorraine concludes his odyssey through the mind and art of Ernest Hemingway with “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, with Hemingway's vision of a writer's oncoming death and the sense of tragedy at not having recorded all the wondrous episodes in his life.

The work had its première in Havana, Cuba – another venue important to Hemingway – in 2014, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Habana Vieja conducted by Zenaida Romeu.

The instrumentation is conventional (wind, brass, strings, timpani with a large batterie) and a concertante piano part.
Duration: less than 40'

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Click below to view the live performance of A Farewell To Arms from Hemingway Suite Video

Click on the song title to listen to the suite.

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The 15-movement Hemingway Suite premiere performance is available on DVD video ($10).
Contact Dan Ayers at Key West Art & Historical Society: 305-295-6616, extension 104, or email:

If you are having buffering problems with your internet connection, please download the zip files of mp3 audio tracks to your computer at the links below.

The Hemingway Suite Cuban Performance

Asheville Suite-Movement3-RomanzaCuban-Performance


Teatro Marti at rehersal
Bill & group after concert In balcony
Bill on stage after concert
Poster for the event
Lianne Vega at rehersal
Zenaida Romeu - Conductor

About the Composer

Bill Lorraine was born in Miami and raised in North Carolina. He has been a resident of Key West, Florida since 1976.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland.

He has performed as a pianist in Key West, Paris, Munich and throughout Europe each summer for 10 years as solo piano player for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Bill Lorraine’s compositions have been performed by the Keys Chorale, the Key West Symphony Orchestra, the Charlotte Civic Orchestra and the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Habana Vieja.

He has produced 3 CD’s of original music for piano, pop band and choir.